Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tales from the Ville-Hi Yo, Silver!

In honor of the debut of NOW THAT’S FUNNY! The Comedy Sketches of Scott Cherney on Amazon Kindle (on sale here), I hereby present this excerpt for your edification concerning a very pivotal time at my dearly departed Home, Sweet Home-The Palace Showboat Theater at Pollardville. It all revolves around what was my best produced piece, The Lone Ranger Rides Again. 

Nostalgia’s a funny thing. It usually puts a warm golden light on our memories to conveniently make our past a lot more significant than it really was. That really doesn’t apply in this case. It’s hard not to look back at Goodbye TV, Hello Burlesque as a pivotal moment in time for everyone and everything involved with the Palace Showboat at that point. GTV, HB, the vaudeville The Lone Ranger Rides Again was written for, set the standard for just about every show that followed it. For one thing, it represented a definite changing of the guard at the theater. Many of those who had been responsible for the development of the standard Pollardville formula decided it was time to move on. That’s when the new kids on the block moved in and with them (or us, as the case may be), a new sensibility. As a result, the bar was raised for on what this theater was capable of with just a little bit of imagination and throwing off some of the shackles of the past.

Bill Humphreys, who conceived and directed this show with Goldie Pollard, brought some of his professional experience in stage and television production to the Ville and turned the olios into a full multi-media experience combining both film and video elements with live-action for the very first time on that stage. Like moths to a flame, this show, as well as the melodrama that preceded it, Seven Wives for Dracula, a better than usual script by Tim Kelly and directed by D.W. Landingham, attracted pretty much what I would call an artists’ collective of actors, writers, musicians and, well, artists. We all congregated in a harmonious convergence in what I unashamedly refer to this as our “Renaissance period”. (Whew!) Okay, maybe some of that is nostalgia speaking again, but the truth of the matter, or the proof in the pudding, was what ended up on that stage and that end result was sensational. We all went to the next level. The music was better. The choreography was better. The makeup, the costumes, the sets-painted by an actual artist, Karen Van Dine…all better than they ever were before. And the cast matched them every step of the way. On top of all that, it was the first show to not only utilize original material but also actually encouraged the creation of such material. That’s where I came in. It all stemmed from the previous production when I helped Bob Gossett punch up the melodrama The Downfall of the Uprising or Who Do the Voodoo? with a bunch of new gags. I tried to do the same with the vaudeville, but, with one exception, was shot down every time. When GTV, HB came along, I was welcome with open arms by both Bill and Goldie, the rest being history.

Goodbye TV, Hello Burlesque traced the world of entertainment back in time from the television age through radio and ending up in the burlesque era. The Lone Ranger Rides Again obviously fit into this middle section. As far as the origin of this sketch, I honestly do not remember. It’s the only one that I’m a little hazy about how it actually began. Perhaps it had been the result of just another idea jam session. I don’t know. But, a few years ago, I caught a rerun of an old Dean Martin Show on TV Land or something. On this episode, Dean and Orson Welles were recreating a radio show. Orson read the script leaving Dean with all the sound effects. Now this must have stuck in my head because I remembered seeing this sketch as a kid. In case you’re wondering, the only thing I retained was a variation of the stairs gag, so I didn’t really steal anything.

Everything clicked on this sketch and it evolved into something even more wonderful than what existed on the page. It began with a kid listening to the radio and changing the channel as a medley of radio show themes and commercials played. When it ended up on “The William Tell Overture” (AKA The Lone Ranger Theme), the audience went nuts every single time. Then the curtain opened on that great set of a radio soundstage from the 1940s and that superb cast took my words and spun their own magic for the next ten minutes. I can say without hesitation that this was the best sketch I had written and certainly the best produced.

The cast-Bob Gossett as The Lone Ranger, Ed Thorpe as Tonto, Cory Troxclair as McGuirk, Lisa Smith as Annabelle, Paul Stolberg as Zorro (who originally came out of the bathroom in the end, a gag I never liked which is why I changed it) and Bill Humphreys as the Director all contributed to its great success each and every performance. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the real star of this bit. Jim Walsh became an absolute superstar in my eyes as the Sound Effects Engineer. His timing was immaculate and his energy non-stop. When he got to the aforementioned stair gag, he ran in place, counting down with each finger. The biggest laugh of the night. This was Jimmy’s best show all around from his performance as Renfield earlier in the Dracula melodrama to singing “Hot Patootie” (from The Rocky Horror Show and the very first rock ‘n roll number at the Ville) to just about everything he contributed to this production-on and off the stage. Small wonder why we used to call Jimmy “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”. Never mind no James Brown.

Without a doubt in my mind, Goodbye TV, Hello Burlesque remains one of the best experiences I’ve ever encountered in this business we call show. More than that, it solidified for me that Pollardville was more than just a theater, but a way of life. It became a surrogate family not only for me, but pretty much for all of us who stayed there throughout the years: One big nurturing, often dysfunctional but ultimately supportive family.

How could we not? After all, we had a place to call Home.
And that ain’t nostalgia talkin’ neither.

Now THAT’S Funny! is available on Amazon Kindle for just 99 cents. Also available in paperback and download . For more information, head on over to . Tell ‘em I sent you.

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